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Colorado Springs - city and rider - shines on stormy inaugural cycling race

August 10, 2017 Updated: August 11, 2017 at 6:57 am
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photo - The women's race of the Colorado Classic heads up Mesa Rd. after leaving Garden of the Gods Thursday, August 10, 2017. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
The women's race of the Colorado Classic heads up Mesa Rd. after leaving Garden of the Gods Thursday, August 10, 2017. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Colorado Springs left its soggy stamp of approval on the opening day of the inaugural Colorado Classic.

Crowds lined streets from Garden of the Gods to downtown, watching for five-plus hours as some of the top riders in the world competed in Stage 1 of the road cycling race.

And in true Colorado fashion, weather played a starring role as hail pelted the riders in the men's race and rain drenched the course. But that did little to dampen the enthusiasm.

"It was great, even with the weather. People toughed it out," said Boulder resident Taylor Phinney, who just last month was in Paris riding in the Tour de France. "They were giving us some good cheers. A good amount of people in Garden of the Gods. A ton of people at the finish line. Colorado Springs definitely treated us well."

It had been three years since an elite men's stage race stopped in town and much longer since an elite women's event rolled through. And the riders were eager to put on a show.

COLORADO CLASSIC
Jenn Valente won Stage 1 of the Colorado Classic women's race Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. She was followed by Skylar Schneider (left) and Emma White. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette 

Springs resident Jenn Valente made the biggest splash, prevailing in a bunch sprint down Tejon Street. The Olympic silver medalist was so intent on crossing the line first she didn't raise her arm in victory until 100 yards after that outcome was settled.

"It's really cool," she said. "Sometimes a lot of people get to do a local crit (circuit road race) or two where they live, but doing a race of this caliber in my home city is really cool."

The men's race also included a bunch sprint to the finish, won by John Murphy. But the real winner of that 93.5-mile stage was Mother Nature.

"The last two laps were pretty chaotic," runner-up Travis McCabe said. "Once the rain and the storm hit, it was just on to survival mode for most of the guys. No one wanted to crash, and everyone was pretty cautious."

Added Logan Owen, who finished third: "I actually thought it was going to be dry for the finish, but then we saw the big death cloud coming in as we came to the finish line. We knew it was going to be pretty gnarly after that."

And gnarly it was. When Phinney came through downtown as the leader with one lap to go, raindrops began to fall. Within minutes, a downpour ensued. Fans scrambled for cover and officials tried to keep barriers in the finish area from blowing into the course.

The weather also wreaked havoc on the television broadcast as NBC Sports Network lost its signal when the storm hit, leaving commentators and viewers scrambling for information.

The women's race went off without a hitch as, under sunny skies, Valente made a decisive move at the finish, edging out Skylar Schneider and Emma White. The win capped a perfect homecoming for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student who's spent much of the summer racing out of state.

The women cross the starting line for the start of the women’s Stage 1 race of the Colorado Classic in Colorado Springs Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
The women cross the starting line for the start of the women’s Stage 1 race of the Colorado Classic in Colorado Springs Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Minutes after finishing, the 22-year-old was asked if she had friends and family cheering her on along the streets she now calls home.

"I actually don't know," she said with a laugh. "I just got in town and I haven't talked to anybody yet."

When she does, she'll have quite a tale to tell. And that's nothing new. A year ago, Valente helped the U.S. claim silver in team pursuit at the Rio Olympics.

Thursday's road stage, however, presented a much different challenge. There was that half-mile ascent of Ridge Road, which boasts grades of nearly 17 percent. There were those two bumpy trips through the Garden. And then there were the three finishing laps, where anything can happen.

But Valente had plenty of help along the way courtesy of her Sho-Air Twenty20 comrades.

"The team did a really good job of just making sure I was in the front group coming over the climbs," she said. "We knew if it was a really hard race that I would struggle going up the hill, but it all worked out."

While Valente's effort might not have been witnessed by friends and family, fellow riders took notice.

"She's super strong," fellow Springs resident and cyclocross national champion Katie Compton said. "She's got so much talent and she's a hard worker. She had a great day today, for sure."

The same could be said for Colorado Springs.

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